Invisible Republic: The Importance of Tone & Grime [Gallery]

Image Comics: This is the first cover to the series. The first cover is almost always a mission statement. What was most important to you to express on this cover? What did you want your readers to absolutely know about the series?

Gabriel Hardman: I think a cover needs to be dynamic and interesting but I also strongly feel it should fit the style of the art inside. This may be a little old fashioned on my part, but the proliferation of design-centric covers with little or no drawn art tends to frustrate me. It also feels like it's trying to fool the reader or apologizing for being a comic book. That said, I'm totally trying to fool the reader with this cover. The spaceships probably suggest much more of a "space opera" than the book really is. But this was the strongest image I came up with so it felt justified. I mean, what are covers but advertising? And advertising is just another word for lying.

IC: A similar question for this one. The first page kicks off the narrative and sets the tone. What kind of place is Avalon after the Malory Regime went down?

GH: Avalon is a chaotic mess. Everyone just wants to put the difficult experiences they've been through behind them and our reporter character, Croger Babb, is there to dig it all up again. Art-wise, it was important to me that Croger not be visually idealized. I like characters to have naturalistic looks to them. This isn't a comic about superheroes. These people aren't aspirational figures. Croger Babb is a self-involved schlub at the beginning of this series and I wanted to show it.

Corinna Sara Bechko: It was also important to us to show, right away, that this was not some clean, antiseptic, classically sci-fi future. Avalon needed to feel like a real world, and the people in it needed to look and sound like they'd been through hell. I mean, the recycling truck missed picking up our bin one day last month and I was upset all week. We rely on our governmental institutions in ways that we take for granted most of the time. We wanted to show the deprivation that results when those institutions break down. The story isn't about that per se, but it is the constant background that informs everything else in the present-tense narrative thread.

IC: Alongside colorist Jordan Boyd, you're doing an interesting thing here with the color palette and panel borders. Can you talk a little about how you differentiate between the two time periods in this series?

GH: The content of INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is pretty complex so formally we needed to do some big, dumb, clear, things to differentiate between the two timelines. I chose to include the panel borders and stroke lines around the word balloons in the past but leave them off in the present.

The approach in Jordan's coloring is much more subtle and nuanced. We agreed at the start on a couple reference points to distinguish the past from the present. Jordan suggested we go for a "bleach bypass" look for the present day pages. This is an antiquated term now that virtually no movies are shot on celluloid, but it was a process that was used to create the desaturated look of films like Saving Private Ryan.

For the pages taking place in the past, I suggested we use the photography of William Eggelston as a jumping off point. He was one of the first fine art photographers to use color photography in the sixties and his work has a sunlit, banal nostalgia that really fits our tone.

IC: Violence is often a big part of action storytelling. I see INVISIBLE REPUBLIC as occasionally bloody, but not explicit. Do you have a hard line for when the violence goes too far? What makes for a good action scene to you?

GH: I don't have a hard line on violence. I think it's all about the tone of the story and how much impact you can get out of the violence. Cartoonish, gory violence just wouldn't fit the naturalistic tone we've set. But I can easily see doing much more graphic stuff in other projects. On a couple occasions when we were working on licensed books, I went too far and the licensor made me pull back. Those were actually the only changes they ever asked for from us but apparently having a crow pick the eye out of a gorilla in close up is a bridge too far for Planet of the Apes.

CSB: I agree, it is completely about tone. I recently worked on an Aliens/Vampirella crossover and there was a lot of bloody action in every issue. But INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is different in both pace and mood. If there is bloodshed or a death in IR, we want it to have real impact. And that means that every action scene has to be accomplishing multiple things. So, to answer your question, I think the meaning of a good action scene changes from project to project. Aside from the fact that they have to be clearly portrayed (and have clear stakes) it depends on the world that's been set up beforehand, in quieter moments.

IC: INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is a sci-fi tale, and we've got space ships in panel 1 and long distance video chat in panel two. It's notable that Babb is using a handheld device with an earbud, technology that feels very "today." How did you approach the high-tech or sci-fi elements in INVISIBLE REPUBLIC?

GH: We wanted things to look crummy and relatable. I probably want that even more than Corinna does. So instead of designing an amazing, cleaver, shiny future, I went the opposite way. On the surface, the technology they use may even seem outdated for today. It's stylized but it serves the feel we're after in the series.

CSB: A major part of this is the fact that Avalon is a colony world, set up with advanced tech when it was founded, but left to make its own way ever since. That's not explicit until a few issues in, but we wanted to make sure that the feel was there from the start. So even when the Earth re-establishes contact, they have to backtrack some stuff so that it can work with what they've found on Avalon. We think a lot about these questions when we're scripting, but usually leave the explanations in the background since the book isn't about tech, it's about people.

IC: I really like the montage feeling this page has. Gabriel, I know you've done a lot of work in Hollywood. What kinds of films or visual styles are you looking to for INVISIBLE REPUBLIC?

GH: I haven't looked to films specifically but there are movies I keep in mind as vague inspiration for the tone. I know I say "tone" a lot but I think that's the starting place for a lot of decisions you have to make in a big sprawling book like this. "Does this fit our tone?" is a question that constantly comes up. Most of the movie touchstones for INVISIBLE REPUBLIC are 1970s movies. And not 1970s science fiction movies. Trust me, we're not looking at Logan's Run. I'm talking about Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, Hal Ashby's The Last Detail, or even Roman Polanski's Macbeth adaptation. Gritty is an overused word but in this instance, it's appropriate.

INVISIBLE REPUBLIC is available in a collected edition, including INVISIBLE REPUBLIC #1-5, and ongoing single issues. INVISIBLE REPUBLIC #8 arrives 12/23.